Whether they’re mentoring young men, speaking to community groups, or organizing food drives, the members of Men Aiming Higher work hard every day for local youth.
“We’re like a band of Robin Hood’s men trying to do good,” says Upper Marlboro resident Percie Rutherford, the nonprofit’s regional director of community outreach. Serving in his role for about two years, Rutherford constantly seeks new members, partnerships, funding and legislative support in his drive to assist young men and launch chapters throughout the state and nationwide.
Founder Darryl Barnes created the nonprofit in 2009 to target at-risk youth from ages 16 to 29. Young men in their teens need guidance and someone to talk to, he said. Those 20 to 21 often seem lost and unfocused.
“Between the ages of 21 and 29 they’re having children but they don’t know how to be a father, let alone a man,” said Barnes of Upper Marlboro.
Dynamic community events and a committed membership help this organization stand out from other mentoring groups, Barnes said. On Father’s Day, members sponsored a free cookout at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park for area families. Even though it was their special day, the men did all the cooking and cleaning for more than 200 people to show boys and teens how a man cares for his family and others, Barnes said.
During a 2010 Toys for Tots event, young men delivered gifts to about 200 recipients, Barnes said. A health walk in May to curb obesity gave local residents a chance to talk with each other while getting some good exercise. An elegant evening fundraiser will take place on July 23 at the Overdue Recognition art gallery in Bowie. And in the fall, the group will sponsor a Sept. 22 job fair at the Sports and Learning Complex in Landover and a Oct. 29 heath fair at the Lake Arbor Community Center.
But the center piece effort youth mentoring occurs far away from the crowds in a classroom at the Possibilities Prep charter school in Largo. Youth participate in a 20-week rites of passage program to learn communication skills, financial literacy self-awareness and more. With its timeless focus on wisdom, the Bible’s book of Proverbs forms the basis of the course, Barnes said.
Rutherford adds an element of black history as well, teaching youth about more than the usual heroes they hear about in school during Black History Month in February.
On a recent Saturday, Barnes and Rutherford conducted a final class with Devante Brown of Temple Hills. “I learned about communication, confidence, swagger and wisdom,” said Brown, 16.
Youth who complete the course receive a suit thanks to partnership with the House of KAS clothing store in Fort Washington.
Young job seekers also have access to the men’s extensive personal connections and networks.
“But you have to complete the course before we make a phone call,” said Barnes, who plans to bring the program to Kettering Middle School and Crossland High School in Temple Hills during the upcoming school year.
The nonprofit gains male mentors and support through its partnerships with such groups as the Local 400 union and the Prince George’s County chapters of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and the NAACP. About 115 men participate in Men Aiming Higher.
“We have the men,” Barnes said. “What we need is funding and donations.”
Working together helps local organizations pool resources, said Bob Ross, president of the county chapter of the NAACP. Ross has been working with Men Aiming Higher since December 2010.
“Men Aiming Higher is a good group with a mission of youth, jobs and economic development,” said Ross of Clinton. “Teaming up with a group that has been around a while helps new organizations get on their feet a lot quicker.”
As he turns the group’s local success into a national platform, Barnes is considering expansion into the Baltimore/Columbia area. What’s more, he’s been asked to speak to organizations as far away as Texas.
“Our good work and our good deeds are spreading,” Barnes said.